Saving ‘ohi‘a lehua
New signs created by the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources are aimed towards educating hunters, hikers, mountain bikers and others visiting state public lands about Rapid ‘Ohi‘a Death.
Anya Tagawa and Jeff Bagshaw of othe DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife's Natural Area Reserve program are hoping the signs help prevent the spread of the fungal disease, which has decimated tens of thousands of acres of native ‘ohi‘a on the Big Island.
The fungal disease, also known as Ceratocystis Wilt, affects the vascular system of the tree. Once stricken, healthy, mature ‘ohi‘a lehua trees can die within a matter of weeks. The disease has the potential to kill ‘ohi‘a trees, which are the backbone of the native rainforest, statewide.
"It is critical that every person who goes into the woods or forest anywhere in Hawaii, takes steps to prevent this disease from spreading," said DLNR chair Suzanne Case in a press release. "Anya and Jeff's work along with a team of other outreach experts, is vitally important in getting kamaaina and visitors alike to be certain they don't inadvertently track the fungus from place to place."
Bagshaw, his staff and volunteers recently conducted surveys with visitors to the Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Reserve and found very few people had any knowledge about Rapid ‘Ohi‘a Death.
"We hope hikers and all forest users will start to be conscious wherever they go, even if there's ‘ohi‘a there or not," said Bagshaw in a press release. "We're like them to realize that they could be taking something into the forest that affects our native ecosystems. ‘Oh‘a are the backbone of our native rainforest; they feed the honeycreepers, they protect the watershed. I can't imagine a Hawaiian rainforest without ‘ohi‘a."
More than 50 signs are expected to be posted at every DOFAW trailhead on the Big Island as well as on Na Ala Hele trailheads on Maui.
The signs recommend that visitors to the trails:
> Clean gear before and after their visit by brushing off all dirt from shoes and gear and spraying with 70 percent rubbing alcohol, particularly if you have hiked on Hawaii island in the last two years.
> Clean vehicles by removing all soil and washing tires and undercarriages with detergent.
> Every hiker could be a potential carrier, so every hiker is responsible for taking the proper care not to spread the fungus.